The Puritan Use Of Imagination -- By: Eifion Evans
RAR 10:1 (Winter 2001) p. 47
The Puritan Use Of Imagination
Wouldest thou see a Truth within a Fable?
Then read my fancies, they will stick like Burs
And lay my Book, thy head, and Heart together.
So wrote John Bunyan in his “Apology” to The Pilgrim’s Progress at its first appearance in 1678.1 Time has proven him right. Few books, even of the powerful Puritan era, make as lasting an impression on head and heart as his. God’s truth is conveyed effectively by Bunyan’s fiction.2
Truth Alongside Fiction
Bunyan was certainly aware of the seeming inconsistency between “truth” and “fable.” He had even sought the advice of his contemporaries about such an enterprise: “Some said, John, print it; others said, Not so. Some said, It might do good, others said, No.”
His “Apology” also tells us what convinced him in favor of publishing: “Solidity, indeed, becomes the pen of him that writeth things Divine to men; But must I needs want solidness, because By metaphors I speak; Was not God’s laws, His Gospel-Laws, in older time held forth by types, shadows and metaphors?”
Appeal is made to Old and New Testament precedent to justify his method: “The Prophets used much by Metaphors To set forth Truth; Yea, whoso considers Christ,
RAR 10:1 (Winter 2001) p. 48
his Apostles too, shall plainly see, That Truths to this day in such Mantles be.”
So he pitched on the book’s title as The Pilgrim’s Progress from this world to that which is to come delivered under the similitude of a dream. The Scripture verse which provided him with a buttress for his enterprise was Hosea 12:10, “I have used similitudes.”3
Bunyan’s characters are skilfully and popularly crafted from biblical blueprints. He requires the reader to identify with them, and after making the connection, expects them to draw the proper conclusion, for edification, reproof, correction, much as Scripture itself does. From a study of nonconformist works in the later Puritan period, Professor Keeble concludes that:
the sources of edification were many, various and delightful. It was not immediately apparent to all nonconformists that imaginative literature was one of them, for the predominant end of Restoration drama, fiction and poetry was certainly not godliness. This understandably bred prejudice against them occu...
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